Tag Archive | Waddesdon Manor

Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

The Burning of Montague House

This noble mansion, situated on the north side of Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, was first built about 1674, by Ralph Montague, Esq., afterwards Baron Montague of Boughton, and Duke of Montague, Keeper of the Wardrobe to Charles II., and who was subsequently in high favor with King William and Queen Anne. The house was erected in the manner of a French palace, from the design of Robert Hooke, the celebrated mathematician, and the inventor of spring-clocks and pocket-watches, and much employed in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire; he was also Curator of the Royal Society, in the year 1678.

Within ten years this superb mansion was burned down by accident, or rather, by the carelessness of a servant. John Evelyn records in his Diary:—“Jan. 19. 1686.—This night was burnt to the ground my Lord Montague’s palace in Bloomsbery, than which, for paintings and furniture, there was nothing more glorious in England. This happened by the neglect of a servant airing, as they call it, some goods by the fire, in a moist season; indeed, so wet and mild a season had scarce been seen in man’s memory.”

The house was at this time in the occupation of the Earl of Devonshire, to whom Lord Montague had let it, for the sum of 500 guineas by the year. Of its destruction we find another entry:—

Whitehall, the 21st Jan. 1685-6.

“On Wednesday, at one in the morning, a sad fire happened at Montague House, in Bloomsbury, occasioned by the steward’s airing some hangings, &c., in expectation of my Lord Montague’s return home; and sending afterwards a woman to see that the fire-pans with charcoal were removed, which she told me she had done, though she never came there. The loss that my Lord Montague has sustained by this accident is estimated at 40,000l., besides 6,000l. In plate; and my Lord Devonshire’s loss in pictures, hangings, and other furniture is very considerable.”

The North Prospect of Mountague House by James Simonic, 1715

The North Prospect of Mountague House by James Simonic, 1715

Montague House is rebuilt

Lord Montague’s large income was again placed in requisition for the reconstruction of his palace; and though executed by French artists, the plan (that of the hotels of the nobility at Paris) was the same, the new structure being raised upon the foundations and burnt walls of the old one. The architect now employed was one Peter Poughet, a native of Marseilles, who was assisted in the decoration by Charles de la Fosse, Jaques Rousseau, and Jean Baptist Monoyer…  This exclusive employment of French artists in the new house gave rise to the popular but improbable tale, that Montague House was rebuilt at the expense of Louis XIV., to whose court Lord Montague had twice been sent as ambassador.

The second Montague House was finished about 1687; and the eccentric but munificent owner, who in 1705, was created Marquis of Monthermer and Duke of Montague, resided in it till after his death, which took place March 9, 1709. He was succeeded in his titles and estates by his son John, second Duke of Montague, who quitted the vicinity of St. Giles’s for the more courtly region of Whitehall. While a new mansion was being erected for him there, he, however, continued to reside in one of the wings of Montague House. After his removal to Whitehall, the house in Great Russell Street remained unoccupied, until it was purchased, by Act of Parliament, of Lord Halifax, for 10,250l., in the spring of 1754, for “the British Museum.”

Montagu House drawing by Nicholas Sutton, published in 1754

Montagu House drawing by Nicholas Sutton, published in 1754

The British Museum

The building must have been in a very dilapidated condition, for the repairs cost more than the purchase, and, with furniture, &c., amounted to the large sum of 29,736l. 10s. 10d.

In plan, the old Museum resembled a French hotel of the first class: consisting of a large and lofty pile, with two sides built for offices, and a high front wall, with an arched doorway, and above it an octangular turret, surmounted by a cupola and vane; this was the principal entrance, and was known as “Montague Great Gate;” and at each extremity of the wall was a square turret.

Left to Right: Montagu House, Towny Gallery, and Sir Robert Smirkes' West Wing Under Construction, July 1828

Left to Right: Montagu House, Towny Gallery, and Sir Robert Smirkes’ West Wing Under Construction, July 1828

To the original building additions were made from time to time, as the collection increased, until 1820, when the rebuilding of the Museum was commenced; the plan bordering three sides of the spacious area formerly occupied by the gardens of Montague House, behind the original mansion. By this means, the collection was removed from the old into the new building as the latter progressed, without any inconvenience to the public. In like manner, the principal front took the place of the old Montague House façade, which was removed piecemeal; and strange it was to see the lofty pitched roof, balustraded attic, and large windowed front of “the French manner,” giving way to the Grecian architecture of Sir Robert Smirke’s new design. The octangular and not unpicturesque apartment over the great gateway lingered for some time after, and was the last to disappear of old Montague House. The materials were sold by auction; and curious was it to see such pieces of the painted walls and ceilings as could be removed entire, bringing a few shillings—one of La Fosse’s deities for half-a-crown, or a bunch of Monoyer’s flowers for 1s. 6d.

The Waddesdon Bequest

This has nothing to do with Montague House, but is just something interesting I came across while researching this blog post. Last summer I visited Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, which is where Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild displayed the treasures he acquired from his travels to the Continent and beyond. Baron Rothschild is quite the romantic figure. He fell in love and married his second cousin Evelina, only to lose her in childbirth eighteen months later. He never married again, but spent his life in the acquisition and admiration of beautiful objects. Click here to take a look at my Pinterest board for Waddesdon Manor.

In 1898 he bequeathed the contents of his New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor to the British Museum.

This consisted of almost 300 pieces of objets d’art et de vertu which included exquisite examples of jewellery, plate, enamel, carvings, glass and maiolica, among them the Holy Thorn Reliquary, probably created in the 1390s in Paris for John, Duke of Berry. The collection was in the tradition of a schatzkammer or treasure house such as those formed by the Renaissance princes of Europe. Baron Ferdinand’s will was most specific, and failure to observe the terms would make it void, the collection should be

placed in a special room to be called the Waddesdon Bequest Room separate and apart from the other contents of the Museum and thenceforth for ever thereafter, keep the same in such room or in some other room to be substituted for it

The Waddesdon Bequest

The Waddesdon Bequest

As a footnote, the cover of my time travel, A Home for Helena, includes a photograph of Waddesdon Manor taken last September at the time of my visit.

Home for Helena Cover 200x309


Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Susana’s 2015 English Adventure: Week 4


On Monday I hopped on a train to Birmingham, then changed to one for Kidderminster. (I just love these English names, don’t you? Mousehole is my favorite, but I’m assured that it is a lovely place to visit despite the name.) At Kidderminster, I took a taxi to The Elms Hotel in Abberley, where I was met by the lovely Heather King and her fabulous, quadralingual dog, Roxy. Heather is an amazingly talented author of Regency stories (and, as Vandalia Black, of rather darker paranormal ones). Heather and I are online friends and have been part of two Regency anthologies, Beaux Ballrooms, and Battles and Sweet Summer Kisses. It was truly awesome to meet her in person, as well as Roxy and the ponies, Merlin and Dub-Dub, and Sootie, the black cat whose offspring were too high-in-the-instep to become acquainted with a Yankee. Heather served me Toad-in-the-Hole, which turned out to be a sort of English comfort food: sausages baked in a sort of pancake batter and served with hot gravy. Besides being very tasty, it served to warm us up inside and outside, after a day spent mucking about the ruins of Witley Court in the pouring rain. (It rains in England. Deal with it.)

Witley Court

Witley Court was once one of the great houses of the Midlands, but a devastating fire in 1937 left it in ruins. While one cannot but regret the loss of such a beautiful home, the exposure of the “bare bones” has proved to be valuable to historians interested in learning about historical building practices.


Witley Court, 1900

Witley Court today

Witley Court today

Thomas Foley (whose grandson became the 1st Baron Foley) built the house in 1665 on the site of a manor house. Additions were made by John Nash in the 19th century, and the house was sold to the Dudley family (later to be given an earldom) in 1837.

Tramping about the ruins of the house turned out to be much more appealing than one might have expected, even in the pouring rain! The gardens are lovely, particularly the fountain (see video here), and the parish church on the property—which is not a ruin—is magnificent.

See photos here.

Berrington Hall

On Tuesday Heather, Roxy, and I visited Berrington Hall, a splendid country home in Leominster (pronounced Lemster, or so they tell me). It was designed in the late 18th century by Henry Holland, whose talent, although not eclipsing that of my favorite, Robert Adam, puts him solidly in second place, in my estimation.

In addition to the rich furnishings and décor, there was an exhibit of Georgian fashion throughout the house, which included—believe it or not—costumes from the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I was close enough to touch the costumes worn by Darcy and Lizzie during the final proposal scene, as well as many others. Truly an awesome experience!

Henry Holland!!!

Henry Holland!!!

The vast grounds include a walled garden with some vintage apple trees, a ha-ha, a lake, and some lovely paths. Heather and I enjoyed a delicious picnic before exploring further some of those paths. And not a drop of rain!

See photos here.

Waddesdon Manor

On Wednesday I took a train to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire (where, incidentally, the estate of my hero in The Third MacPherson Sister is located) to visit Waddesdon Manor.

Waddesdon Manor was built in neo-renaissance style in the late 19th century as a sort of French château by the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild of the Austrian banking family. The baron fell in love with his second cousin, Evelina, and married her, only to lose her in childbirth eighteen months later. The baron never married again, but became a compulsive collector instead. The furnishings are considered to be among the richest of any stately manor anywhere.

These stairs are reminiscent of those at the Château de Chambord in France

These stairs are reminiscent of those at the Château de Chambord in France

Unfortunately, I was only able to tour the house due to time considerations, but I plan to visit again to get a good look at the extensive grounds and other buildings, such as the Aviary and the Dairy.

Although cloudy, it didn’t rain until I had returned to London, where I got promptly soaked making a last round of Piccadilly Street and Fortnum & Mason. But hey, it rains in England. That’s why it’s so beautiful!

See photos here.

Adieu to England

Squidgeworth enjoyed his orange juice on the plane.

Squidgeworth enjoyed his orange juice on the plane.

It was with a tear in my eye as Squidgeworth and I said goodbye to England on Thursday. For now. We had a marvelous time and were fortunate to be able to visit many wonderful places, but there are still lots more on our bucket list. I’ve already booked our flight and flat for next year’s trip in August.

So much to see, so little time!

Next week: Squidgeworth and I have some travel tips for you!